Had the final score been Tampa Bay 22, Washington 21, Billy Cundiff might be unemployed.
Any kicker who misses three field goals in a 1-point loss has job security concerns, and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan can be particularly spiteful. In one of the more audacious scapegoat moves in recent memory, Shanahan forced Deltha O'Neal to move from cornerback to receiver after O'Neal was beat for a late game-winning touchdown against New England in 2003. Cutting a kicker that just cost him a game wouldn't be that difficult for Shanahan.
One can only imagine how much pressure Cundiff felt when he lined up for a potential game-winning 41-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
Washington, behind a calm drive led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, couldn't have felt very comfortable as Cundiff trotted on the field for the attempt. Earlier in the game, he missed from 41 and 57 yards and had a particularly damaging 31-yard miss in the fourth quarter that left the door open for a great Buccaneers comeback. At least one of Cundiff's teammates gave him some encouragement. According to the Redskins' official Twitter feed, running back Alfred Morris told Cundiff, "I believe in you Billy!" before the final kick.
The Redskins, and Cundiff, seemed to be absolutely relieved when the kick went through the uprights for the 24-22 win - and it barely snuck inside the left upright. His teammates mobbed him, then once he broke free, Cundiff gave an exaggerated fist pump, a clear release of many emotions.
"For me, I knew that if I got the chance, no matter how bad I kicked in the game, I knew I would make it," Cundiff said, according to Redskins.com. "I stayed positive the entire time so that when it did come out, it may not be pretty — it wasn't the best ball I've ever hit — but it went through the uprights, and we were able to win the game."
Cundiff knows all about the disappointment of missing a big kick. He hooked a field-goal attempt at the end of last year's AFC Championship Game when he was with the Ravens, sending the Patriots to the Super Bowl. After a tough day and some stressful moments when it looked like he would fly back on the team plane as the goat, Cundiff deserved to enjoy his big kick.
He might have even kept his job for the time being.